I touched her arm timidly. She turned. I saw the deep sadness in her eyes and I felt the frailty in her thin body. She leaned toward me, about to cry. I grabbed her in my arms and held her tight. She cried like a helpless baby in my arms. I held her tight, let her cry and wished I wouldn’t have to photograph her. But I heard a volley of shutter sounds behind me. Another photojournalist was capturing this moment of this poor woman breaking down in a stranger’s arms. A shame. But later I would have to photograph this woman, too. I couldn’t blame my fellow photographer. And as a professional photojournalist, I was not supposed to hug this woman so I could be neutral in the story. But damn, let that rule go to hell tonight. I wanted to be a human being with a heart only. And yet, I still had to photograph her. I felt a thief.
When she calmed down, I asked, “is it ok I take a few photos of you?” She nodded and thanked me for helping her get the story out. “Let’s hope someone will donate a liver to your husband soon,” I said. She nodded again, her lips clamped tight. She was holding herself from crying again. We all knew the hope was, well, in Bob Dylan’ words, “blowing in the wind.”
I made her stand in front of her husband’s hospital room door and asked her to look into my lens. I wanted to show the solemn sadness and helplessness in her eyes. Then I apologized that I took so many photos of her. Yet she thanked me instead of forgiving me. She knew it was better to get the story out as soon as possible so potential donors could save her husband’s life. She thanked me again and again. But I felt terribly guilty as if I were a thief stealing her soul. And yet I had to wait for candid emotional moments to be captured, too. This was my last assignment of the week. (Please spread the word and help her out: http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2028408/hong-kong-woman-begs-liver-donor-save-husband-who)
Before this sad assignment, I photographed an architect, Paola Navone. A great character. She was impatient with me at first. The PR said I would have 15 minutes to photograph her. She grunted, “ten!” I asked her, “When you design, how many drafts do you sketch?” She laughed, “I like you.” She became very cooperative, funny and full of vibes. We both had great fun during the photo shoot. I think I got at least 15 minutes.
When I got home and looked at the photos of the sad woman who would probably lose her husband soon and those of Paola Navone, I felt…well… Life is so tricky, yet so intriguing, surreal, and yet real. I also felt grateful. This job allows me to enter all walks of lives, good or bad, happy or sad. They all humble me.
Photocopy rights: Xiaomei Chen/SCMP